December 22, 2010

Boat smashed on Australian cliff; 28 migrants die

By KRISTEN GELINEAU and TANALEE SMITH, Associated Press – Wed Dec 15, 6:58 pm ET
SYDNEY – Australians on a high cliff watched helplessly Wednesday as a wooden boat smuggling as many as 100 would-be migrants was smashed against the jagged rocks by monstrous waves, dumping screaming men, women and children into the stormy surf. At least 28 people died and 44 were rescued.
The deaths off Christmas Island, a remote Australian territory, underscored the dangers faced by hundreds of refugees who have tried to sail from Indonesia to Australia in recent years — often in cramped, barely seaworthy boats — to start new lives after escaping from poor, war-ravaged countries.
Photos and video from witnesses showed the boat crashing into jagged rocks and breaking apart, as well as people floating in the water amid the wreckage. The boat was about 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 meters) long, with a cabin covered by a sheet of fabric or plastic.
"When the boat hit the cliff, there was a sickening crack. All the people on board rushed to the land side, which is the worst thing they could do, but I don't think anybody could swim," island resident Simon Prince told The Associated Press.
"It was just horrible," he said. "People getting crushed. Bodies, dead children, the whole thing was pretty awful."
Some of those aboard were from Iraq, Home Minister Brendan O'Connor said from Christmas Island, which is closer to Indonesia than the Australian mainland.
In Canberra, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said 28 people died and 44 have been rescued. Of those saved, 11 were children.

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